What Kind of Leader Would You Be at the End of the World? Hit Play
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Find out if you’d make a benevolent dictator or a brutal autocrat.
By Skot Thayer
“It feels as yesterday, we were turning the wheels of progress. Until the frost … stopped it all.” Everything you know is gone, buried beneath ice and snow. You and a handful of survivors trudge through the endless and deadly white, finally arriving at a place where you can build a new city, a new civilization. One that could survive the death of the world. Gathered around the only source of warmth, a massive coal-burning steam engine, the surviving men, women and children all look to you to lead them. What will you do?
Set in Victorian-era England after a global ice age devastates most of the world, Frostpunk is a new computer strategy game that charges players to make difficult decisions in the midst of impossible circumstances: building not only the last city on Earth but also its society.
It’s the “first society-survival game,” according to its creator, 11 bit studios in Warsaw, Poland. The studio’s previous game, 2014’s This War of Mine, tasks players with managing resources like food, water and medicine among a small group struggling to survive in an urban war zone, modeled on the siege of Sarajevo. As a spiritual successor of sorts, Frostpunk takes these core ideas of scarcity, sacrifice and survival and scales them up to a citywide level.
It’s like a choose-your-own-adventure game with moral consequences.
As the dictator of this desolate metropolis, you control construction (similar to other games, like SimCity) and also choose the laws that shape the subzero wasteland society — which is the game’s underlying challenge, says Pawel Miechowski, senior writer at 11 bit. Managing the city’s day-to-day operations is rife with political intrigue and desperation: Do you use child labor to survive the next cold snap? Are dead bodies disposed of in the most efficient manner, or will you devote scarce resources to a cemetery?
Every decision affects not only the resources the society needs to survive but also its morale. Each move has repercussions that aren’t always apparent and often have long-lasting consequences. It’s like a choose-your-own-adventure game with moral consequences — a balancing act of survival versus sanity.
The game was inspired by Polish sci-fi royalty Jacek Dukaj’s 2007 masterpiece Lód (Ice), Miechowski says — a novel about how history is changed when Earth freezes. That inspiration is evident in the game’s haunting soundtrack and stark, bleak visuals. It feels like a steampunk version of the film Snowpiercer, but without the trains.
And it’s been extremely popular. Frostpunk ($34.99) sold 250,000 copies in the first three days after its release in April, and has since jostled for position in the top-10 sellers on Steam, the world’s largest digital game marketplace.
One of the biggest appeals: Players can get a glimpse into their own psyche, which can be addictive. What kind of player will you be: hero or villain? What kind of leader: benevolent dictator or brutal autocrat? Most games present choice and outcome in black and white. But Frostpunk snaps on a moral lens. Citizens will live or die because of decisions you make. Will the city survive? Will you survive your decisions?
- Skot Thayer Contact Skot Thayer